It’s testing season where I coach, as I’m sure it is in many places across the country right now, and as I’ve walked the halls during the past few weeks I’ve heard frazzled teachers engaging in what can only be described as last minute cramming sessions. As the date of the test neared, the stress level rose in direct proportion, so that today, the day before the actual test, teachers’ voices rose to a pitch only dogs could hear and kids sat frozen in their seats.
Teacher: “ OK, everybody – opposites what?”
Teacher: “I know we’ve gone over this, boys and girls. Think – opposites do what?”
Students sit still, hoping one of their peers will sacrifice themselves. Finally, one brave soul volunteers, “They’re big?”
Teacher: “NO! No, no, no! We just did this last month! Opposites attract! North pole! South pole! I know we went over this!”
At this point the teacher’s voice has risen to fever pitch and the kids shift uncomfortably in their seats, wide-eyed, half hoping for the teacher to implode.
No matter how much we prepare for big events, whether it’s a test, a play in front of parents, or a class presentation before the school board, everyone gets a case of the stupids immediately before the big day. Students appear to have forgotten everything we taught them and even half of what they learned the grade before. We can bang our heads against this wall of lapsed memory, which I have done many a time, or we can anticipate its coming and prepare to employ other strategies with students in the days immediately before the test.
In the example above, everyone ends up unhappy – the teacher feels like a failure, sure that, with her job in the hands (or heads) of 25 clueless youngsters, she should go ahead and apply at Wal-Mart and sell her car. The children, who may have previously had some confidence that they could pass the upcoming test, just had their worst fears confirmed because now they know for sure they WON’T and will instead repeat their current grade, possibly with this same crazy teacher who had seemed so calm and reassuring up until a month ago. Just in time for the big moment, everyone falls apart emotionally, and all confidence is lost.
In reality, it may not be that bad, but we’ve all got to admit to occasional less-than-stellar performances right before high-stakes testing occurs. Our stress level transmits to the students, no matter how hard we might try to appear patient and understanding. And it’s a law of some sort that students’ knowledge level dips in the days before the big test.
I propose a different set of rituals in the run-up to the big day. Granted, there needs to be some preparation time for teaching test format and the genre of “test passages”, but that can happen during the month before the test. In the days right before, however, I suggest that we put away all test prep materials, all those test packets and commercially produced test practice booklets, and instead spend some time reminding kids of all they’ve learned over the past 160 days or so. How about we pass out their portfolios and have them look back at their writing from the beginning of the year, finding at least 2 things they know they can do better now than they did when they first arrived in our class? Or have them meet in small groups and pull out the books they first recorded on their book logs way back in August, and talk about how much they’ve learned about authors, different genres, inferring character motives, and how visualizing can help us remember what we read. Perhaps everyone could make a T-chart comparing the “old me” and the “new me”, recording the growth in list form and subject categories.
Most children have probably lost sight of the younger version of themselves that nervously showed up in your room so many days ago, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we probably have too. Everyone, adults and children, deserves to celebrate growth. And in the act of celebrating, if we end up forgetting about the test for just a moment or two, that’s okay too.